Don Copley said he headed out on a deer hunt to have fun with friends, but came home feeling like a criminal. Copley, of Haysville, also thinks the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Toursim could have helped prevent the offense that lead to a ticket, and thinks the legal system came down on him excessively.
Copley plead guilty to putting an improper permit on a mule deer buck he shot near Colby in late November. He paid nearly $1,300 in fines, restitution, court costs and is serving six months probation.
“I did it, but I just made a simple mistake. There was no intent to break the law,” Copley said. “I’m fully convinced if the print had been larger, I would have caught my mistake.”
He’s referring to the tiny font that identifies what can legally be taken with a permit. It’s tucked in between a variety of legal information, and in a font so small six or seven lines could go across the face of a dime.
Copley, a friend, and the friend’s young son were coming back from a “great hunt” when a Kansas Highway Patrolman stopped them near Great Bend, wanting to check the deer that were visible in the back of their truck. The trooper spotted the problem quickly.
“I was dumbfounded when the officer asked to see the tag, and said we had a problem,” Copley said. “I was really embarrassed.” Copley said he dug through his wallet, and found the proper tag amid a variety of hunting and fishing-related green cards. ”I kind of sabatoged myself,” he said. “I had so many tags in there and really thought I had the wrong one.”
The 60-year-old hunter offered to destroy the permit only good for an antlerless whitetail that was illegally on the buck, and replace it with the one that was legal for the mule deer buck. The trooper instead called a game warden, Copley made the offer, and was given a citation and his buck was confiscated.
He investigated fighting the charges with an attorney, but the costs would have been equal to or more than the fine, with no gurantee of success.
Since, he’s contacted several people within Wildlife and Parks, hoping to at least make the type on the permits at least easier to read. “I’ve had several people tell me they’ve had issues with the fine print, including a game warden,” Copley said. He’s yet to find a sympathetic ear within the agency.
When he returned to the Colby area to take another friend deer hunting, he got little support from the county legal system. He maintains nearly $1,300 in penalties is too much for what he insists was a simple mistake.
Karen Beard, Wildlife and Parks licensing chief wasn’t aware of Copley’s situation, but said she gets very few complaints about the font, or know what could be done about it. “I just don’t think we have any more room (on the permits),” Beard said. “We’re just pretty much out of room with all that needs to be on permits.”
Chris Tymeson, Wildlife and Parks attorney, had heard of Copley’s situation, but said he’s heard few complaints about the font, but knows of other cases involving improper tagging. In the past, state game wardens have had a traveling display with more than a dozen trophy bucks illegally tagged with antlerless-only permits. Many times the hunter was hoping to keep their buck tag in hopes of shooting another buck. Other times, the antlerless-only permit had been the only one purchased.
No doubt, plenty of purely simple mistakes, as claimed by Copley, have occurred.
“I understand how you could do it, but it’s also how people commit fraud,” Tymesoon said. “They get caught and just say they put the wrong one on, and then want to put the right one on. How do we know when it’s an honest mistake?”